KARACHI: The media industry needs more female journalists to speak out about issues pertaining to women since men tend to bring out stereotypical news angles out of incidents, particularly rape and crimes committed in the name of ‘honour’.
Farzana Ali, the Peshawar bureau chief of a news channel, said this on the second day of the National Media Conference organised by the Center of Excellence in Journalism (CEJ) at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) on Friday. She was speaking at a panel discussion, titled ‘Women in the Media’.
According to her, women should be considered journalists as the profession has no religion, borders or gender. Reporters just have to report, she said. She said she does not like how female journalists are portrayed in the media. She talked about how, when she was covering the war in Swat and Waziristan, she was told that they do good programmes but she isn’t ‘hot’.
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Talking about issues such as rape and ‘honour’ crimes, she pointed towards the menace of character assassination. According to her, it is the easiest tactic to degrade any women. Unfortunately, she said, it is mostly used more often by women than men against women.
Harassment at workplace
Speaking on the occasion, journalist Tanzila Mazhar reflected on the ordeal she went through at her former workplace. She talked about how her case of sexual harassment turned into some kind of ‘anti-Pakistan trial’ and she had to resign from her post.
“When my case was picked up by India and they didn’t take my version, [the news channel] started a petition against me that I brought disgrace to the country,” she said, asking if women start abandoning the profession, who will highlight their issues in the media.
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Another journalist, Imran, also spoke about the issues that women face in the journalistic profession. Talking about how issues of women can be addressed, he said that one way could be through marking a strong presence in the media through input while the other could be to make concerted efforts to change how the media portrays women. Women are considered weak, marginalised and vulnerable solely because of gender, he added.
He pointed towards the fact that even men are sexually harassed by other men. Many times, the harasser does not even realise what he is doing.
Women and power
Imran lamented the fact that women holding positions of power in the media industry do little to bring about any change. On the other hand, those trying to propel some change are not in a position of power. According to him, majority of the women in media are unable to execute an effective role in bringing about change as they are not empowered in reality.
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Talking about how things can be bettered, he said that women will have to outnumber men to take the spot they deserve. “Journalists have to realise that in the interest of their profession, they should not distinguish between men and women,” said Imran. “Anything [that] happens to women inside [and outside] the organisation … is equally bad,” said Imran.
Beauty versus brains
“Women anchors are considered [for] their looks and not their intellectual [abilities],” said Najia Ashar, a TV anchor, adding that while opportunities exist but it cannot be denied that there are social issues and taboos surrounding women.
Razeshta Sethna, an assistant editor at an English daily, asked the audience to ponder over a question – in daily newspapers, how many bylines are those of women on outer pages. She pointed towards another issue that most of the news on the front page pertain to politics and major disasters and not women-related issues. It is misogyny and a general lack of respect in society, which is reflected in the profession as well, she added.
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Nonetheless, she said that there are some advantages to being a female journalist. Women have access to more information and people are more comfortable conversing with a female reporter as compared to a male counterpart, she said.
Reporting in conflict areas
The next panel discussion was on reporting in conflict zones. Afghanistan-based photojournalist Massoud Hossaini said that no story is worth anyone’s life.
“If we really want to cover an incident in a war zone, security is the more important,” he said, adding that what we have to do is understand the situation and bring out all the information.
Sharing his personal experience, he said he checks around whether there is danger or not. “If there is any, I run away and wait for the right time,” he said.
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Peshawar bureau chief Ali was of the view that journalists are targeted and vulnerable. They know no investigation will be done and even if it is done, nothing will happen in their favour, she said.
When the Army Public School (APS), Peshawar, incident happened, they were told how to report, she said. “We all were in trauma [and] we had psychological pressure at that time,” she said, adding that journalism has stopped and only press releases issued by state institutions are carried. Journalism isn’t getting any better, she said.
Srilankan journalist Dilrukshi Handunnetti said that while reporting, one just starts living with it on a daily basis without actually realising how it affects their lives until they stop doing it. “Organisations are also attacked on different levels,” she said while talking about how things happen when one goes to report in conflict areas. She shared how her editor was killed in the face of such conflicts.
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She stressed the importance of training. “What we learnt, we started sharing with each other.”
Meanwhile, Ejaz Khan, the Quetta bureau chief of a news channel, said that the biggest pressure on the organisation is to pretend that they are painting the picture while in reality news is dictated. He also complained that law enforcement agencies do not help them and refuse to confirm news.
“There is not a single journalist in Balochistan who has not reported physical or sexual harassment,” he said.